Revitalizing the Branch with Digital Marketing

All around the world, retail banks have implemented various forms of digital technology to bolster their marketing and advertising efforts. Innovations such as BLE beacons, facial recognition and digital display technologies continue to play a larger role in branches around the globe. However, the way in which these solutions are being implemented within branches and the ways in which banks are attempting to personalize their customer interactions differ greatly by geography.

In Asia, for example, customers entering a branch are immediately identified using biometrics. Facial recognition technology provides marketers the ability to capture the characteristics of a customer’s facial features with a camera, including age, race and gender. The camera executes an algorithmic analysis of the customer’s face and sends a specific message regarding that customer to the banking staff. In fact, facial technology has the ability to target a banking customer once he or she is within the bank’s Wi-Fi radius and can then pass along information to the banking staff so that they can be prepared to handle that customer in a personalized manner.

Citibank, for example, introduced the world’s first card-less biometric payment service as far back as 2006, according to Finacle from Infosys and Asian Banker Research from 2010, and the technology has continued to evolve dramatically since then. In many Asian countries, biometric technology is commonly employed by high net worth banks, which use a camera facing the front door to identify patrons and perhaps greet them by name. This is considered an honor under Asian social norms.

Digital Hub

Additionally, the digital branch model remains important in Asia, as seen by a June 2014 announcement from HSBC detailing the launch of a flagship branch opening in Singapore with a “Digital Hub” to showcase the company’s e-banking platforms and related content. We expect to see more banks in the region emphasize personalized and digital experiences, given the expected growth in Asian banking.

Europe is, arguably, at the forefront of creating the digital bank branch with a customer experience driven and guided by digital technology. European banks have rethought the need for the traditional teller and have extended the self-checkout model already popular in many grocery stores and convenience stores to the branch. In 2009, Barclays unveiled its first “brand concept” branch in the UK featuring an interactive installation representing London, large video walls, and integrated content from blogs for an engaging customer experience. Just last month, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) announced it would spend more than $1.7 billion over the next three years to improve online and mobile banking and install new technology within its branches.

We can expect to see a greater number of European banks create an environment in which the branch contains one banking representative (at most) while delivering self-service banking through multiple mobile tablet stations. Such an environment enables marketers to create interactive experiences via mobile devices and tablets, which reduces personnel and printing costs.

While Europe has historically been a bit ahead of North America when it comes to the implementation of new banking technology, there has been a recent uptick in the adoption of digital marketing within North American bank branches. In 2013, Wells Fargo rolled out its “neighborhood bank format,” one-third the size of a typical location, in the trendy NoMa neighborhood in Washington, D.C. In the same year, BMO in Canada unveiled a “nanobranch” in Montreal with consultative meeting spaces and staffed with at least two employees to address customer’s sales and service needs, reinforcing the importance of the branch in North America as a center for education.

As a result, the ways in which North Americans use the branch is shifting. The branch has become a place to go to discuss bigger life decisions, such as purchasing a home or taking out a student loan. Most North Americans have said that they prefer to interact in a one-to-one environment within the branch when dealing with these types of financial matters, which is highlighted in a 2012 Accenture study. Marketing managers can use these parameters to develop a comfortable experience for North Americans.

Unlike in Asia, however, privacy concerns to some extent can limit how comfortable individual patrons are with the banks knowing too much about them. The majority of Americans and Canadians continue to desire a certain level of anonymity so that being greeted by name upon entering the branch could still be viewed as somewhat invasive. Even so, the combination of digital technology with customer analytics gives banks the world over an ability to influence customer behavior, loyalty, brand perception and sales – while revitalizing the branch at a time when mobile banking has become the norm.

Mr. Riegel is founder and CEO of Dayton, Ohio-based Stratacache. He can be reached at [email protected].